Austin school board to vote on renaming schools with Confederate ties


Highlights

After months of debate, the AISD board ultimately decided it is time to bring the issue to vote in two weeks.

If the majority agree to change the school names, AISD will take nominations for new names from the public.

Renaming committees will review the suggested school names, and board could vote on new campus names May 21.

After months of debate, the majority of the Austin school board has agreed to vote Feb. 26 on whether to change the names of five schools that have ties to the Confederacy.

The trustees Monday night debated issues regarding policy changes, financial costs and community input surrounding renaming schools but ultimately decided it was time to bring the issue to a vote. If the majority agrees to change the school names, the district will take nominations from the public and community members, including the campus advisory councils, will review the suggested names. Trustees could vote on new school names as early as May 21.

“I understand this is emotional, but this is a real history full of real pain and real injustice,” Trustee Ted Gordon said Monday night. “This is about human dignity, the actual life of slavery. … There is a direct connection to John H. Reagan and the fact that our black kids are doing 30 and 40 points worse on math and reading. So this isn’t about school pride. It’s about something much deeper.”

The school board will consider whether to rename the following five campuses:

• The Allan facility (the former Allan Elementary), named for John T. Allan, an officer in the Confederate army.

• Reagan High School, named for John H. Reagan, the Confederacy’s postmaster general.

• Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston campus, which is named for Gen. Albert S. Johnston.

• Lanier High School, named for Sidney Lanier, a noted poet who fought for the Confederacy.

• Fulmore Middle School, named for Zachary Taylor Fulmore, a private in the Confederate army.

Trustee Yasmin Wagner said she sees “this as a social issue we can address, and I’m ready to take that on,” but said she, as well as other trustees, said they must weigh the financial impact of changing the names, estimated to be at least $77,000 per school, plus other costs such as uniforms.

Others raised concerns about the lack of community input in the process to rename these schools. When the board voted to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary two years ago, there was a concerted effort among community members, including some school parents, to rename that campus. It is now called Russell Lee Elementary, after the critically acclaimed Depression-era photographer who was a founder of the University of Texas photography department.

“Everything we’ve ever had to do has needed a lot more community participation and favor,” said Trustee Julie Cowan, who said she was not sure whether she would support name changes. “And for us to not take that into account this time around is a little hard for me to accept. … I haven’t heard an outcry from the current students and parents at these targeted campuses like we had from Lee Elementary. So it feels different to me.”

While some Austin residents have gone to the trustees asking for name changes, a few current students said at board meetings they don’t see the need for it. Lanier alumni, those both in favor and against, have emailed trustees. And a Reagan alumna submitted results to an informal survey of fellow alums that showed the majority of the 1,169 who submitted answers did not want to see Reagan’s name changed.

The trustees have clashed over the issue in recent weeks, and Gordon has publicly shamed the board for delaying a vote on this issue. Trustee Ann Teich had asked the three board officers to consider putting on the agenda the censure of Gordon, but, on Monday night, board President Kendall Pace said they didn’t believe his comments violated policy.

“We certainly encourage individual trustees to speak their own truth while in public in a manner that doesn’t denigrate colleagues,” said Pace, reading from the officers’ statement. “The AISD board is currently grappling with subject matter that is complex, that has already caused angst among trustees, but such is our work. It is the officers’ expectation that public discussion, whether in agreement or dissent, will be respectful. And at this time, no trustee will be censured.”

On Monday night, trustees also discussed proposed policy changes that would require all school mascots, nicknames and descriptors to “respect cultural differences and values.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

City approves $425,000 payment to settle King’s excessive force lawsuit
City approves $425,000 payment to settle King’s excessive force lawsuit

Austin will pay $425,000 to an African-American schoolteacher whose violent arrest in 2015 sparked nationwide outrage. On Thursday, City Council members unanimously approved an agreement with Breaion King to settle a lawsuit she filed against the city. Video that surfaced in 2016 as a result of an American-Statesman investigation showed an Austin police...
3 Texans approved by Senate committee for federal judicial posts
3 Texans approved by Senate committee for federal judicial posts

The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved three Texas nominees for lifetime judicial appointments. Andy Oldham, general counsel to Gov. Greg Abbott who had earlier drawn sharp criticism from Democrats, was approved along party lines, 11-10, for a post on the powerful 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that sits in New Orleans. Beaumont attorney Michael...
State to fine company, give students reprieve after STAAR glitches
State to fine company, give students reprieve after STAAR glitches

Texas fifth- and eighth-graders affected by two widespread online testing disruptions in as many months won’t have to pass the state standardized test this year to move on to the next grade, the Texas Education Agency announced Thursday. In addition to dropping the testing requirement, the agency will levy $100,000 in penalties on New Jersey-based...
BREAKING: Austin City Council votes against holding CodeNext election
BREAKING: Austin City Council votes against holding CodeNext election

5:24 p.m. update: The Austin City Council on Thursday voted against placing a petition ordinance on November’s ballot that would have asked if CodeNext should be put to a vote. The vote sets up a likely legal challenge to the council’s action. Local attorney Fred Lewis, one of the leaders behind the petition that garnered more than 31,000...
Austin man dies year after shooting; suspect charged with murder
Austin man dies year after shooting; suspect charged with murder

When Zha’riyah Brady visits her grandmother’s house, she clutches a pillow with her father’s face on it and sometimes asks where he is. Kimberley Blocker said she carries it around the house like a toy doll and takes it to bed with her at night. “I think she is just feeling her daddy’s spirit,” said Blocker, whose...
More Stories